The Punting Confessional: Racing Media

The Punting Confessional – October 31st, 2012

Friday, October 26th
Today saw the announcement of the new line-up of presenters for Channel 4 Racing but while the show is an important shop window for the sport, I have to admit that as a punter I couldn’t care less about who heads up the programme and I doubt anyone uses the station’s coverage for a gambling edge bar the relative speed of the terrestrial pictures.

It did however set me thinking about a much more important part of the racing media, the Racing Post, and its uses and otherwise. In many ways, we are lucky to have a daily paper on our sport but punters should be aware of how and how not to use it. (I should at this point admit that I don’t buy the Racing Post on a daily basis; typically I buy it on a Wednesday, Sunday and any day I’m going racing while I am a subscriber to the website ).

The best part about the whole Racing Post set-up is its website, its database of form and breeding much the slickest around in my experience and it is well worth the subscription fee and then some. I cannot understand anyone who would crib paying this fee as it’s an outstanding service apart from the odd technical glitch regarding automatic log-outs after a period of time and in reality one just cannot expect to get this level of data for free.

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The site allows one to work the form backwards and forwards to see how a race is working out quickly and has loads of useful extras such as trainer comments (though in terms of Irish racing, the ones on tend to be more detailed), Racing Post ratings, future entries and trainer/jockey stats. The ability to save notes on horses – though I don’t do it myself – is worthwhile too while the breeding side of things is done especially well.

A vital function of the Post is a simple one, to provide news about racing whether it be about targets for horses or ground conditions or any other relevant information; I am thinking here of straightforward Who-What-Where-When-Why stories rather than opinion. As an irregular reader of the paper I will often miss on some nuggets as while the website does have a news section, it is not what it once was and lacks the detail of previous years, particularly since they have brought in a rolling news screen. This is understandable as the publishers need to keep something back for the print edition to ensure sales.

Why don’t I buy the paper every day? Some of my friends would point to meanness as the obvious answer but it’s a simply down to time; I wouldn’t have the time to read it properly each day and prefer to form my own opinions in terms of my articles and video reviews of meetings; this may have its downsides in terms of missing some stories but I suspect the upside is greater.
One part of the news function with the Post is to supply the views of trainers on their runners in upcoming races but in the main I’m not a great lover of such trainer comments, finding them bland in the extreme. A subsection of this part of the paper are stable tours which are everywhere at the moment given it’s the start of the national hunt season but while I’m sure they’re a great seller for the paper – who wouldn’t want to know the innermost thoughts of the Paul Nicholls/Willie Mullins/Nicky Henderson/insert name as appropriate – such features are becoming so commonplace (particularly with jumps trainers) as to render them useless.

It is also pretty annoying when you read about a big-priced winner in the Post that one of the trainers vaguely tipped in a stable tour as ‘a horse I like’ or ‘shows some promise’ when in reality they are never going to be negative about any of their charges.
A basic part of the Racing Post is its presentation of form in paper format but I struggle to see how any serious punter still reads form in a hard copy when one can do it so much more efficiently online. The most obvious problem with this is the time constraint; a punter cannot get the physical paper until the morning and one really needs to be studying the night before. Also, in most cases, the form in the paper only goes back three runs or so and to get a true picture of a horse one really needs to go deeper.

As mentioned above, allows one the opportunity to really study the form in depth and I cannot help but feel that the traditional presentation of form in paper format (for all that the Racing Post have added some good features such as how the race is working out) is an anachronism. That said, I did get my eyes opened in this regard when I was a focus group of the Irish Field (Ireland’s weekly racing paper) last year; when I mentioned that the paper form was a waste of time I was completely shot down by the rest of a twelve-strong group, the digital age clearly not having kicked in with many.
I realise this next section could be read as sacrilegious, akin to slagging Frankel, but I’m going to write it anyway. I like Tom Segal; he comes across well when interviewed with a sardonic wit and doesn’t take himself too seriously while on the one occasion I met him at the Irish Grand National in 2011 he was an utter gentleman.

Clearly his tipping record has been supreme down the years but I don’t like his copy which lacks depth of analysis especially when placed alongside someone like Hugh Taylor, the doyenne of tipsters for me, a writer/thinker that a punter would always learn something from whether in print or on screen. With Segal, his views all too often boil down to ‘I just fancy it’ or ‘I’m a fan of the horse’ and he rarely ventures a negative opinion on a horse. I can understand why this is as his column is likely the most read part of the paper and he doesn’t want to offend a raft of trainers who the paper will later rely on for content but when punting I believe it is important to hold a negative view of a horse as when you dislike the front end of the market, you are really onto something as a rising tide lifts all prices.

A final complaint I would have about the Racing Post and their use of tipsters is the degree of overkill they tend to use; with the paper, it is often a case of throw enough muck and some of it is bound to stick. Just this past Saturday, you had Pricewise, Trading Post, Best Bets in Ireland, Big-Race Trends, Gerald Delamere, Spotlight, Racing Post Ratings, Topspeed and all the local views. It’s just too much and when they start praising a winning tip when there has been at least five others in the race, it gets sickening. Giving Pricewise the ‘big-up’ is fine but please draw the line at that.

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